After hiring Romeo Crennel into a full-time head coaching role, the Chiefs looked to bring the old band back together by hiring former Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to call plays. Daboll was the wide receivers coach in New England when Scott Pioli was the general manager, which is likely why he was hired. Daboll led a 20th ranked Miami scoring offense in his lone year calling the plays and has improved as a play caller since his days with the Cleveland Browns.
Daboll is still a relatively inexperienced play caller in the NFL, handling the duties only three seasons (two in Cleveland, and one in Miami), and has had struggles. However, he has never been exposed to an offense with the talent that the Chiefs possess. Explosive running back Jamaal Charles will return to Kansas City’s backfield after he tore his ACL in Week 2 of the 2011 season, and they’ll have a healthy competition at quarterback between Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton. They also have a plethora of pass catching weapons.
Even though the players assembled on a roster ultimately win the games, coaches still play a significant role in developing and tailoring the gameplan to the available talent. Daboll does a solid job of this by focusing on details of the game, a tendency that he developed early career in his career under the guidance of Bill Belichick. Daboll goes into games with 150 to 160 plays on his call sheet, which is categorized into “25 specific color-coded sections such as inside zone runs, outside zone runs, play-action, Wildcat, Josh Cribbs plays, third-and-1, third and 2-5, five red-zone sections, empty backfield, three-step drop, etc.”
While Daboll has many plays, they’re not all included in his base offense; instead, there are a specific few that are his “bread and butter,” as he explains:
“There are different plays each week. They’re not dramatically different because we’ve been working on them, but they’re tailored to the defenses we play.”
A couple of these bread and butter plays — inside zone run and the China pass concept — can be seen in Daboll’s offense on Sunday regardless of the opponent.
The inside zone run concept is an ever-growing, popular concept that nearly all NFL teams have adopted, making it a part of their base running package along with the outside zone, iso, power, and counter. This concept can be run effectively out of a one or two-backfield set, and Daboll runs it with both ways, with a single back in the backfield or an H-back/fullback leading the way.
On this concept, the running back takes the hand-off and has a specific key to look for: the outside hip of the guard. When the ball is put in the back’s belly, he reads the outside hip of the guard because that determines which way he’ll be running.
When the ball carrier reads the outside hip and there’s no defender penetrating to the outside, he runs outside, as Jamaal Charles has often done in the past. However, if a defender penetrates outside of the guard, it means the outside hip is essentially covered up. Consequently, there’s no running lane to the outside, meaning the runner is forced to make a cut to the backside and seek open field. It’s crucial to be able to find this cutback lane, and it’s not one that every tailback can identify; the runner has to be instinctive and have a feel for the play.
After running the ball with the outside zone, Daboll likes to call play action and throw a pass concept at the defense that includes a horizontal and vertical stretch. Sometimes this can be problematic for defenses, especially when Daboll calls for four verticals (another bread and butter play) or the aforementioned China concept, because it puts defenders in conflict.
The China concept is built off of the Smash concept, with the inside receiver still running a corner route, but the outside receiver runs a square-in instead of a hitch route. It’s a rather simple concept, and it’s often blended with the original Smash concept by having the outside receiver reading the cornerback: if he plays loose, run the hitch, and if he plays tight, run the square-in. Either way, this concept forces the cornerback who lined up against the outside receiver to make a tough decision.
If the cornerback is playing tight man coverage, he’s chasing the outside receiver running the square-in, and as a result he’s leaving the corner route ran by the inside receiver open. However, if he drops off in soft coverage, as a Cover 2 corner would, he is in no-man’s land and leaves the underneath route open (see my image).
The Inside Zone run and China pass concept are the staple plays of Daboll’s offense, and they’ll be featured in Kansas City. Daboll is still improving as a play caller and has had some rough areas at times, particularly in the red zone where he appears to run out of ideas.
He has to improve near the end zone if the Chiefs plan to get back into the playoffs.